It has been an unseasonably dry winter in the UK. February brought with it record-breaking temperatures, with an average of 10°C that was the mildest since records began in 1910.
And there has been significantly lower rainfall than normally experienced in the winter months, which naturally has had an impact on the National Hunt racing calendar.
Normally we would expect races at this time of year to be taking part on mudbaths; indeed, the Cheltenham Festival of 2018 saw the going graded as heavy, which is a stark contrast to this year’s test of speed on largely good-to-soft ground.
Conditions looked set to be quick and dry for this year’s Grand National at Aintree, but a heavy downpour of rain overnight on Monday and into Tuesday – some 10mm fell, apparently – has caused a shift in the going.
The three-day meeting will kick off on the Mildmay and Hurdle courses, which are both currently rates as good-to-soft, while the National course is officially good-to-soft and soft in places.
With more rain in the forecast for the next few days across Merseyside, the surface could inch out towards soft and perhaps even heavy in places, and that would clearly change the nature of the four-and-a-bit mile marathon.
Clerk of the course at Aintree, Andrew Tulloch, said:
“We had the 10mm of rain we were forecast last night and the ground has changed to good to soft, soft in places on the National course. It is a bit softer by the canal side of the National course.
“We will just keep an eye on it for now, we are expecting some showers and will see what the score is. At this time of year the ground can dry out reasonably quickly. We’re very happy with where we are at the moment.”
Favourite Strengthens Despite Claims Elsewhere
The case for Tiger Roll to become the first horse since Red Rum to win back-to-back Grand Nationals has been aided by the rain.
All of the Gordon Elliott trained horse’s best work has come on softer ground, from his back-to-back wins in the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham to his victory in this very race 12 months ago. Compare that to a listless effort on good ground at Prestbury Park in November, and its confirmation that the nine-year-old prefers an old-fashioned dogfight.
The market has reacted in kind, with Tiger Roll shortening with some firms from 9/2 to 7/2 in the past couple of days.
But of course, it’s not just the favourite who will benefit from more rain falling.
Vintage Clouds was second in the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on soft ground in March, and he has come in slightly to 12/1 with some bookies. And you have to go back to 2017 to find the last time that Anibale Fly won a race, but having come fourth in last year’s National on heavy ground there has been interest at the 12/1 mark this time around too.
And nobody remembers the horse that finishes second in the Grand National, of course, but Pleasant Company missed out by a mere head to Tiger Roll a year ago. He has struggled on quicker ground this season but a return to softer footing sees the Willie Mullins charge come in to 20/1.